I have learned over the years that when you go on kayaking trips by yourself you can never be too sure what to expect. I first met Cooper Lambla in Cusco Peru following a week of rolling solo through the heart of the Peruvian Andes. We barely knew each other for thirty minutes and we already had plans to spend the next month exploring the largely untapped rivers of Bolivia. Outside the country any imformation was impossible to find so it wasn`t untill we arrived at the Instituto Geographico Militar in La Paz that we realized how big of an undertaking it would be. With difficult access it quickly become apparent that most boating would have to be done from close to the source all the way untill it reached the low foothills of the Amazon Basin. We decided to warm up on the already know Unduavi river figuring a roadside run would help us know the character of the rivers without being too commited. Brimming with excitement, and unsure of past put-ins we got off of the bus as soon as the river looked remotely boatable at around 10,000 feet. The locals shook their heads in something between confusion and amusement as we dragged our boats optimistically towards the steep, rocky, mountain creek. The first day consisted of mostly portaging with ultra-steep stacked class V and occasional commiting slot canyons. It wasn`t untill the second day that we were finally rewarded with several miles of quality boofs and gorgeous canyons with the cascading waterfalls typical of the northern Andes.
Cooper Lambla near the beginning of the good stuff on day two
Cooper probing a slot on the `Duavi
Inspired by what we found we decided it was time for a mission, and a big one at that. The Pelechuco river is one of the northern most drainages of Bolivia`s Cordillera Real, and a principle tributary of the Tuichi; a river renowned for it`s thriving jungle ecosystem as it flows through the remote Madidi National Park. In the early dawn hours we borded the ten hour bus from La Paz to the town of Pelechuco. The drive itself was spectacular, passing through fields of grazing Alpaca on the high alpine tundra with glacier capped peaks in the distance.
The headwaters of the Pelechuco from the road
Upon first arriving in Pelechuco most of the locals thought we were nuts, but eventually several became excited and offered us their help and advice. We learned where we could expect to find fishing trails, how far tributaries were, the names of people who could help us in potential take out towns, and we were even given a ride in a 4x4 several miles down river.
Cooper and I with Juan (a folk musician and driver) and Reynaldo Vasques (Hotel
owner, horsepacker, and most simply stated - the man)
The river started with a several hour portage. That was followed by about a half hour of boating and then a several hour portage on the other side of the river. The jungle was quickly getting denser and the river showed no signs of mellowing. Only a good double boof kept moral high as we ate tuna with ketchup and mayo in a small, buggy camp.
Cooper at camp one
On day two we ran almost everything but the gradient was unrelenting, with many small must make eddies above horizon lines as the river dropped from the Andes in one continuous rapid. At lunch we realized we hadn`t made it as far as we thought and were in fact barely on the map. Shortly after lunch a 14 inch crack propegated in the bottom of my boat and we had to camp early for repairs. Still moral remained high. Realizing the size of the undertaking we were on the water early the next day and around noon we finally reached the point where the gradient mellowed (slightly) and we were able run several kilometers of whitewater without scouting.
Coop linking it up on day three. It was still pretty steep!
Just after lunch on day three we finally got what we came for. The gradient picked up again, but this time - instead of scary steep boulder gardens - we found ourselves in a tight-walled bedrock canyon that we named the Babylon Gorge.
Myself spreading my wings on Boof To Babylon
Below the canyon the river finally lost some of its angst and we were happy to finally relax while we paddled several miles of class 3/4 in spectacular canyons with pristine jungle crowning the rims. We took out in the first town we saw and were immediately surrounded my the locals, curious to know where we had come from. By pure chance there was one car in the town that was getting ready to make a trip to the outside world. The drive to the pavement took about seven hours and was on a one lane dirt road with a precipitous drop to one side and board bridges spanning gaps in the road. After the driver fell asleep at the weel Cooper drove the vintage land cruiser to safety much to the amusement of the Bolivians riding with me in the truck bed. After the Pelechuco we spend two more weeks in Bolivia and ran three more rivers. Unfortunately both Cooper and I had camera mishaps so seen here are the only surviving pictures; so enjoy them.
A beautiful little river we stumbled upon. We still don't know its name.
A Typical Bolivian shuttle.